Hi Mom.

For those of you loyal readers, by know you've figured out that almost every Mother's Day, we (the children of MBFCF) have proudly hijacked our mom's blog with some adorable photos and commentary about how much we love and adore our mom.

The first year, we wrote THIS.

The following, THIS

You get the idea.

This year, we decided we were tired of writing about it… but that’s not important right now.

(Happy Mother’s Day. We love you!)

There is so much more we have to say... but maybe we'll save that for next year. 




And...they're off!

This is not the way I pictured it. 

I'm talking about my life as Eric and I approach our Twilight Years. Which are really more of a pale yellow at this point, but that's not important right now.

Here's how I pictured it:

My kids would all be grown and gone. I have never had any illusions that they'd stay home forever. That would be just plain weird. 

But I did picture them living nearby. And they'd be coming over for a weekly family dinner. And we'd sit around the table and I would bask in the love and fabulousness of the beautiful family I'd created. And we would grow. And the table would stretch to accomodate more. It would all be super noisy and delicious and there would be lots of laughter and smiles.

And that would be how Eric and I would live out our Twilight Years. Happily surrounded by our growing family and maybe investing in a bigger table.

But obviously God (and my growing family) have other plans for this whole Twilight Years business.


As you know, Amy Kikita moved to Florida last year. See this post about Changes. I wrote about all that last August and now, just recently, there have been so many more changes. Which is where I find myself today - thinking about all of this and questioning my Twilight Year Plan.

From that writing to now, Amy has landed a job in Sacramento, California. 400 miles away, but now she's at least on our coast and is only a one hour flight away. She's busy shopping for an apartment and furniture and settling in to her new (from the sound of it) Hipster lifestyle. 


Adam has taken a job in Washington D.C. with the Susan B. Anthony List. I'm quite excited for him as this is a great opportunity, but of course, that means he is clear across the country. Alysha and the baby are still here as he looks for a place to live, but they'll be leaving in about a month. I will miss them terribly. Especially my grandson, Asher.


However, we are happily offering our babysitting services as often as Alysha will let us.


Lucy moved out last September (see this post about Finding Her Place) and is adapting well to her new digs. She's also only a few minutes away right here in Mission Viejo, but she's busy starting her own graphic design business, so I have to bait her with use of my washer/dryer and food. It's working so far. (Food always works.) Who knows what her next adventure will bring?


Jonathan is in school and going from audition to audition, which means driving to Hollywood a few days a week. Some days I'm lucky enough to be called upon to be his carpool buddy. But I'm picturing the day he needs to move up there permanently. For now, he's still here with us.

But who knows for how much longer?


Here's how I'm dealing with all of it...

The weekend that Adam was set to leave, I bought Amy a plane ticket to come down and scheduled a family photo shoot and going away dinner. 

I contracted our friend and Master Photographer, Dan Shalaby to document the magic and we spent a few hours down at our favorite beach frolicking and posing. Or photobombing. Or just having fun together.

I just wanted one last hurrah before everyone went their separate ways.


Many Cuban mothers take issue with their kids moving away. I swear, I thought I'd totally be in that category. Until now.


Now, I'm just embracing the moments as they come. So grateful that we live in the age of Skype and FaceTime and texts and emails and Facebook and Instagram. (Also, I'm Smrtqbn on Instagram if you want to follow me.)


I love that they have developed their own relationships with each other. I'm no longer the glue that holds them together. Even though I am the one who insists on the photo shoots, but that's not important right now.


I'm grateful that they're all so much fun to be with and I'm looking forward to reinventing myself. 


I still can't get enough of my grandson, Asher. But that's the general consensus around here. That kid is seriously well-loved.


So I'm working on accruing miles on my Southwest credit card and making plans to travel more often this year and thinking big thoughts about what I'd like the next chapter of my life to look like. 


And truly, Eric and I are happy in this season. It's taking some getting used to not having all the crazy around all the time. But it's really good. We are delighted for all of their success. And grateful for the quiet days. 


As far as my Dinner Table Fantasy goes, I had them all with me right after the photo shoot. We went to our favorite Cuban restaurant (of course) and it was all super noisy and delicious and there was lots of laughter and smiles.


And I thought to myself, "I really am the luckiest."

Missing the Mess

I was having a conversation with my mom (Luza, who, by the way, is 100 years old) and I was telling her how weird it was to only have 1 of my kids left at home. 

Technically, even Jonathan is not here, because he's gone most of the time with school and auditions and driving to LA and rehearsals for the play he's in. So I find myself rethinking making meals. I'm so used to cooking for a crowd and now it's just me and Eric.     

Which is awesome. And completely weird to me.

So I am telling this to Luza and she suddenly she asks, "Is your kitchen clean?" Which at first I thought was an issue with her synapses mis-firing again because that seems to happen more often lately. She's 100, after all. I thought she was changing the subject.


"Yes, as a matter of fact, it is."

Which, now that she was mentioning it, I realized was pretty unusual for my house. There are always dirty dishes and leftover-from-last-night's-party cups and serving dishes that I was too lazy to wash out yesterday. And glasses with some sort of liquid in them on every available surface in the kitchen and dining room and living room. (Shut up. Don't judge.)

But here was my kitchen, with everything in its place and the counters wiped off. Hmmm.


Or mostly clean. But still...

Then she dropped this nugget on me:

"You spend years cleaning and straightening and discouraged that no matter how hard you work it doesn't seem to last for more than a day. Then suddenly you surmise that everything seems to stay neat and straightened and clean and you find yourself missing the mess."

My mom has lived 100 years. She has a lot of life experience. I guess I shouldn't be surprised when she has these amazing moments of lucidity.

"Go ahead and grieve. It's not the mess you miss, it's the messy people."

And so, here I sit, in my pretty-clean-for-a-Monday house, letting the tears fall. I think it's just part of that whole pesky empty-nest thing happening and I just need to embrace it.

Just when I think I need to soldier on through this alone, I get a text from Amy in Miami:


It turns out that the Messy People miss me, too. Who knew?

As an added bonus, it's also pretty nice to have a clean kitchen.

Finding Her Place

Have you ever seen those photos that people take of their kids in the exact same spot or with the exact same toy over lots of years? It's a wonderful way to mark the passage of time and show the child's growth and how they've changed and grown.

You know I'm a big fan of then and now photos. I think they make me much more appreciative of the good times we've had, while also helping me be "in the moment."

We have a tradition that we do every year where we take a vacation week down in Del Mar, California and go surfing (well, my husband and kids do the actual surfing while I sit on the beach and document the magic, but that's not important right now). 

We usually take the week that Lucy celebrates her birthday and Eric and I celebrate our anniversary. It was 5 years ago that the Photo Tradition began outside of Filippi's Pizza Grotto in San Diego's Little Italy

Fillipi's is a mom-and-pop-family-style restaurant where there are no reservations and you enter through a funky, genuine Italian market to get to the back of the store where you find a full service restaurant with the requisite chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling. The food is always good and the ambiance great. The line usually runs out the door and down the street. Yes, it's that good. 

So we usually find ourselves queuing up as we kill time during our wait. Five years ago, on August 11, 2010, my 17 year old girl sat down and I shot this photo.


Thus began a tradition of celebrating this girl's birthday with a visit to Little Italy and taking The Photo.

August 11, 2011. She had graduated from high school before the summer began, dyed her hair red and cut it all off. 


August 11, 2012. She's 19 years old and testing out some blond highlights. 


August 11, 2013. Is it possible that she is already 20 years old? Also, notice how fast her hair grows! The food at Fillipi's is still consistently good. My girl is consistently changing.



A few months ago, on August 11, 2014, we were back at our favorite Italian restaurant, celebrating yet another Lucy Birthday. A Milestone. People, my daughter is now 21 years old. 

As you can see, the photo is taken from a wider view. You can see many more details as you move further back. While it appears to be the same, there's so much more to the picture.


So it is with this girl's life.

She turned 21 and has been working hard to "get a life." She works at a few creative (but, happily, very well paying) jobs and has saved enough and planned well enough to move out on her own. 

My family celebrated this milestone by throwing a "Castaway" Party. As in, "if you have any castaways, Lucy can sure use some stuff for her new apartment." 

The Cubans came through because "any excuse for a party." Duh.


They gave her lamps and dishes and towels and tape. Like a shower, but not. It was quite fantastic. 

And now, Lucy is settling in, not far from us, into a place of her own. She did this in today's economy, without a roommate (we're really proud of her for managing that). She knows who she is and what she wants. And it's kind of fun watching as she gets her life together. 

I'm so pleased with the person she's becoming. Of course, I know I'm so not the typical Cuban mother. I'm working hard on my end to give her "space and grace." If I freak out a little (and of course, I do), I keep those emotions confined to the pages of my journal or to the quiet conversations I have with Eric. 

Because truly, my job here is pretty much done. This is her time.


So, I'm feeling all confident and sad and happy and scared as the moving van pulls away. 


Lucy's cat saying goodbye.

She quickly sends me a photo showing me she's settling in to her new place.


That's my girl. She's going to be ok.

From the Set to the Red Carpet - NOT A Very Bad Day at All

Sit back. Get some popcorn. I have a wonderful "full circle" type story for you today.

Jonathan worked on the film, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day last summer as a featued background actor. 

It started almost exactly a year ago when Jonathan decided he might like to give acting a shot. He signed up with a casting agency that specializes in background actors. Specifically kids. Because we homeschool and his high school classes were all online, there were no scheduling difficulties. 

He started working almost immediately as he was 17 and a few productions needed teenage background actors. I recall we were on vacation when I received the email asking if he was available to work for a few days in September on an upcoming Disney movie. 

Wait. WHAT?

Disney had a film in production and they needed a few kids to work "featured" background." They were calling them the Prom Kids. That's all the information they gave us. 

Edith Head and Me

We saved the filming dates and the next thing we know, Jon and I are on our way to the Edith Head Building at Universal Studios for a wardrobe fitting. 


Having worked as the costume person (and a huge fan of Edith Head) for theater productions for years, I was completely over-the-moon-out-of-my-skin-excited for the opportunity. I may or may not have made a complete fangirl fool of myself asking a bizzillion questions of the costume people. (Please notice the costumes from Once and Barbra Streisand's skating outfit from Funny Girl. That is all.)


 We still knew nothing about the what or why of the scene or the film, but dutifully followed all the directions we had.


Jon was delighted with his skinny, Euro-tailored suit and Italian leather shoes. Also, the wardrobe people were just lovely. 


We arrived on the set a few days later. Call time was 8:00 am for the days we were there for filming, which meant we left our house at 6:00 am. I know. "Wah, wah...we had to get up early to go work on a Disney movie." (Not complaining at all.)

Getting Camera Ready

First thing in the morning, Jon would check in with the wardrobe, hair, and makeup people. 





Then we were off to the set to "hurry up and wait."

The Prom Kids

There were 5 "featured background" kids - 3 guys and 2 beautiful girls. They quickly bonded - it's a strange feeling being dressed and made up for prom for an entire day, waiting for your scene. They began calling themselves "The Breakfast Club." (Early call times, you know.)


The Japanese Restaurant 

These particular days, the filming took place at a Japanese restaurant in Pasadena, which, in the film is called Nagamaki.  With a bit of movie magic and the change of a sign, we were now in the world of Alexander and his family.


This is where we were esconced during the filming of the restaurant/prom scene. Gratefully, it was air-conditioned. (Which proves the existence of God as far as I'm concerned.)

Hanging with the Talent

All the actors, including the background people, were in different rooms of the (air-conditioned-thank-you-God!) Japanese restaurant waiting for their scenes to be called. 


It was sooo accidentally cool to be:

  • Working on a movie set.
  • With Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner.
  • Keeping our fingers crossed that Jon's "prom moment" would make it into the film.



Steve Carell was truly gracious in allowing photos with the kids. Jon may or may not have said, "You...are my biggest fan," which got a laugh out of Steve. He also bought pizza for 80 people the night we had to stay late on the set. Lovely human.



Is He or Isn't He?

There are two moments in the film, and I mean moments, as in, if you blink, you missed them, where the Prom Kids are featured. 

One is where the characters of Celia and Anthony, played by Bella Thorne and Dylan Minnette see their friends at the Japanese restaurant on prom night.


Cue the Prom Kids.



They took turns walking in with a different person, in a different order. In the film, their "moment" is cut to less than 2 seconds. And no, Jon didn't make the cut. (Note: I totally would have made the same decision if I were the director. It makes sense to the plot of the film.) But still...*sigh*



At the end of the craziness that takes place in the restaurant (by the way, Steve Carell actually caught all those shrimp in his mouth with no CG, but that's not important right now) there's a scene that takes place just outside of a limo. 


They filmed the kids walking to the limo, getting into the limo, sitting in the limo. In the scene that actually made it into the film, Jon is IN THE LIMO. So, no, you don't see him at all on film. But he's IN THE LIMO. 

This has now become the running joke around here: "JON WAS IN THE LIMO!" Or hashtag: #jonwasinthelimo. I guess you had to be there...

What Was It Like on the Set?

You know at the end of a film when they roll the end credits and they go on for miles and miles? Well, those people are my heroes now. I know the stars and the director and producers are the ones who take the bows, but the people who make all the magic happen - the lighting, props, effects, makeup, wardrobe, best boys, and key grips and all that - they are my heroes. 

Not only were they super professional and hard-working, they were delightful and happy to answer all the questions that the über-curious Cuban mom threw at them.

Truthfully, I was giddy and happy and bouncing around with such enthusiasm because I was so happy to just be there (even in the inflatable cast I was wearing around this time) as this was all happening. I don't know if they felt sorry for me, or if my crazy was contagious. I could so appreciate all of their artistry. 


Seriously, prop people, what a fun job!


The Walt Disney Studios

So, here we are one year later and the film, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is ready to be released. Imagine my delight when Disney invited us to pre-screen the movie at the Disney Studios in Burbank. They were gracious enough to let Jon invite his friends. (Thanks, Disney people!)


We prepared them for the two scenes which Jon may or may not have been in.

Afterwards, they were wonderfully supportive (as only good friends can be in that moment when you find out your scenes have been completely cut from a Disney film) and consoled him with, "But, Jon, you were IN THE LIMO!

The Red Carpet Premiere

On Monday, October 6th, we were invited to the Red Carpet Premiere of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day at Disney's El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. (<--Please appreciate that sentence and be appropriately impressed and freaked out with me. Thankyouverymuch.)

Of course, I've already told you about the Press Junket.

As we walked the Red Carpet, I couldn't help but feel grateful at how we had come full circle and had the wonderful opportunity to experience the movie-making process from wardrobe fitting, to being on the set and working on the movie. Now here we were walking the Red Carpet on premiere night. What a gift.



The After-Party

As if it wasn't enough that we had the privilege to see the film with all the stars at the gorgeous El Capitan Theater, we were also invited to the after-party. 

Wait. What? (Somebody pinch me.)

I know. It was so much fun to be a part of the celebration. Dylan Minnette, who plays big brother, Anthony, remembered Jonathan from the days that he spent on the set.


Ed Oxenbould, who plays Alexander is an absolute delight.


We ate, we mingled, we discussed our good fortune to have been invited. I was proud of Jon in that he handled the disappointment beautifully and quickly went back to being his wonderful, goofy self. This whole thing has been a bit surreal.

So there you have it. That's the story of the journey that Jonathan and I took from Movie Set to Red Carpet. I'm still a little bummed that Jon didn't make it into the film at all, but so grateful for the amazing experiences I got to share with my son this past year.


Also, when you go see the film, please remember that: JON WAS IN THE LIMO!

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day opens everywhere on Friday, October 10th, 2014.

The Best Graduation Party of The Year

My son, Jonathan, graduated from high school a few weeks ago. As I've done with each one of my four kids, I asked what type of celebration he'd enjoy. 

The four of them have asked for completely different types of parties and I have tried my best to comply.

in 2001, Amy wanted an All-Cuban theme, with all the family and her friends, Cuban music, and food. So that's exactly what we did. I made Arroz con Pollo for about 50 people. It was a wonderful success.

2004 - Adam wanted a really nice dinner with just his closest friends. And Lucy (class of 2011) wanted a "classy outdoor dinner party" with a showing of the Marx Brothers' film, A Night at the Opera. I have obliged them all.

Warning: This is going to be a super loooong post with lots of photos and detailed descriptions and some serious over-sharing. (You're welcome.)

The Invitations

Jonathan wanted to celebrate with his two closest friends and have The Blowout of the Year. He wanted "The 3-D's: Dinner. Dancing. Donuts." Of course.

We bantered ideas back and forth with his two best friends, Nathan and Tori (the girl next door) and finally came up with this - Their own take on Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

We would call it JON, NATHAN, and TORI'S DAY OFF.


Lucy got the three of them together to do the Ferris inspired photo shoot, and worked her magic with Photoshop to create the clever double-sided invitations.


They each invited friends and family. The RSVP's began immediately.

"We wouldn't miss it!"

"What a clever idea. Of course we're coming!"

"We will be there!"

At last count we had over 75 people including children and adults. 

The Preparations

As I wrote about in my last post, we decided, along with our neighbors (Tori's parents) to take down the fence between our yards. Read that story here: Tearing Down Fences.

We couldn't afford to pull up all the dying grass and create a cobblestone courtyard (my idea of perfection, but that's not important right now), so we grabbed all of the old pots that had once held plants that had long since died off, and Tori and I planted pretty color bowls to set around the neglected beds in our garden. 


Also, we had our old wooden patio furniture that still looks pretty cool, but we weren't so sure it would actually hold bodies anymore, so we re-purposed them as plant holders. I was quite happy with the results.



The day before the party we enlisted good friends and family to help with the heavy lifting and the addition of extra lights and things. One of the things that stresses me out the most when I'm entertaining is the idea that I have to be Superwoman and do it all, which, of course, is ridiculous. (It's also a Cuban thing, but that's not important right now, either.)

This time around I deligated, and practiced saying, "yes, thank you" when someone offered their help. This is new and unexplored territory for me. I must practice saying that magical incantation: "yes, thank you."

Remember those wonderful lights and flags we put up last year? Read about them here: Documenting the Magic. Well, the flags were a little sun-faded, but still very usable. (I was worried.)


Eric and crew hung them in strategic places. (I may or may not have made some sketches of where I wanted everything set up. Shut up. It's efficient.) Flags would go on either side of the "dance floor" (concrete slab), and along the garden's edge. 

While digging around for all my decorative things I came across a bag full of fabric. It was actually just rags. The triangular pieces left over from cutting the flags last year. I quickly decided that those would make an awesome 'rag banner' to drape over the dance floor. I enlisted the girls next door to just tie the rags onto twine and call it good. I wrote about the amazing twine here: Styling a Quick and Easy DIY Thanksgiving.

This might be my favorite decoration of all.


For those of you that are curious about the metal poles holding up those lights and flags. Eric got some 18" metal pipes that he pounded into the ground. Into these he inserted the long 10 foot metal poles. I think they can be found in the electrical or plumbing sections of Home Depot. At the top of the poles, he added some "S" hooks which are held down with white duck tape. I know. It's so much simpler than it looks, but the end result is stunning.

They look even more magical at night.


The Posters

Remember that our general theme was Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Lucy created some really fun poster designs for each of the three graduates with quotes from the movie and we had them mounted and hung them in different spots around the yard.


"The question isn't: 'What are we going to do?' The question is "what aren't we going to do?""

"You realize if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym?"

"How can I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?"

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

So cute, right?

I also got dozens of plain black sunglasses as a lovely parting gift to give to the guests. These were quite a hit.



The Signs

We were going to be hosting such a large crowd and I didn't want our guests to be wondering where things were or what was going on, so I made signage. (People, this is what I was born to do.)

This first chalkboard was right outside the front door. I wanted my guests to feel comfortable right away. It was quite effective and they knew what to do immediately. I also had two friends stationed inside greeting and giving directions. Because is there anything worse than getting to a party and not knowing where to go? (I should teach a class in Cuban Hospitality 101. Thank you, Haylee and Marc!)


Also, we came up with our own hashtag. (I know. Shut up.) So if you were following along on Instagram or Facebook, you would just follow the #jntdayoff tag.

(Speaking of following, if you don't already, you should be totally be following me on Instagram. I'm Smrtqbn.)

As you walked into the back yard, almost the first thing you saw was the piece of our old fence, now painted with chalkboard paint and sporting directions.


The food had its own signage. And so did the desserts, which were located next door. (I should be crowned Signage Queen. Just sayin.')


This is the view from the far end of our house looking out over everything. Even before our guests had arrived I was feeling so pleased with our hard work.


 The Food

I decided to keep the food as simple as possible and decided to serve my own version of Southern California Mexi-Cuban. (What? Mexi-Cuban doesn't exist? It does now.)

First, we had a Make Your Own Tostada Bar.


I deep fried 6 inch flour tortilla shells into a "bowl" shape.


We provided 3 kinds of meat: Cuban-style pork, ground beef (really it was picadillo without the raisins and olives. Shh!), and a crockpot lime chicken (I promise I'll share that recipe another day). The pork and the chicken I made in two crockpots the night before.


We also had black beans (duh) and a blend of grilled onions and peppers (Shh! It was really a sofrito). The idea was to grab a tortilla shell, put in some beans and your own meat and your favorite toppings, which included lettuce, sour cream, olives, cilantro, scallions, tomatoes, lime, avocado, guacamole, cheese, and of course, salsa. (Thank you, Stacie, for all the chopping and grating!)

Are you feeling the Mexi-Cuban vibe? I'm on to something.


Everything was pretty easy and according to all the guests, delicious. 

The other (genius) thing we served - did I mention most of our guest were teenagers? - was the Walking Tacos.


1) You start off with a bag of Fritos or Doritos, which you crush before opening.


2) You open the bag and add meat and toppings.

3) Top this with Ranch Salsa. Basically half Ranch dressing and half salsa mixed together to make a wonderful yummy, rose-colored concoction. 

4) Grab a fork and eat right out of the bag. 

From the reactions we got to the Walking Tacos, you'd think we had discovered fire. (Win.)


My dear friend, Theresa of Sundrop Cottage (she is The Party Maven of Orange County) let me raid her storage area for all the fabulous and funky serving dishes, beverage dispensers, tubs, stands, covered glass cake stands, chalkboards, frames and every other wonderful party detail you see pictured in these photos. (Thank you, Theresa!)    

The Refreshments

It has been a long standing tradition at all of the parties we've ever had in the Darby home, to serve Real Ice-Cold Coca-Cola  ("it's the Real thing.") in the traditional glass bottles. They're made in Mexico with cane sugar instead of high fructose. You can totally taste the difference. 

We got cases and cases of Cokes. At the end of the night I think we had maybe two left. (Win.)




For the non-Coke drinkers, we also had a tub full of mini cans of other soft drinks, Perrier, carafes of water, beverage dispensers with lemonade and iced tea. Also, instructions on how to make Arnold Palmers.




The Sweets

Of course, we couldn't forget the desserts. To be honest, I debated making my pastelitos, but I was already cooking all the rest of the food, and besides Jonathan wanted donuts. So we got dozens of Krispy Kreme Donuts, elegantly displayed under glass. Jon was correct in his assessment that "his people are donut people." 


But I got a little fixated on having mustache cookies. (Please don't even ask me why. I was planning so many details and I got a little crazy here. Shut up.) Except my sugar cookies don't ever turn out very well. What to do? 

I enlisted the help of my talented next door neighbor, genius baker, and mother of Tori, Debbie and her other daughter, Tessia to make the sugar cookie mustaches. Remember me practicing the "yes, thank you?" This was one of those moments. 

Mustache Sugar Cookies for the win. (Thanks, guys!)



All that was left was for me to make the signs. (You know, I excel at signage.)


Tessia made a simple chocolate fondue and the rest of the dessert table featured All The Things That Are Awesome When Dipped In Chocolate:

  • Wavy Lays Potato Chips
  • Pretzels
  • Rice Krispies Treats
  • Ritz Crackers
  • Marshmallows
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas

 Here's the recipe from Hershey's Kitchens:

Chocolate Lover's Fondue

  • HERSHEY'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 3/4 cup light cream or half & half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Assorted Fondue Dippers

1, Combine chocolate chips, light cream and sugar in heavy medium sauce. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate chips are melted and mixture is hot.

2. Pour into fondue pot or chafing dish; serve warm. About 2 cups fondue.

The Photo Booth

We have the distinct privilege and pleasure to have, not one, but two talented photographers in our circle of friends. (All the photos that you see here are from them.) We decided it would work best to divide the picture taking between a photo booth and a roving photographer. (Seriously, I can't even believe I'm writing this. How lucky are we?) 

Rafael Guajardo (Tori's dad!) of Rafael Photography manned the Photo Booth.


Jonathan, Nathan, and the girls next door, Tessia and Tori

While Dan Shalaby and his son, Cameron shot the candids. 


The screen that was the backdrop for the photos is where the movie would later be shown.

Here I am with my dear friend and best neighbor, Debbie. This is pretty much the only proof that I was actually there at the party. I was mostly behind the scenes making sure there was food and everyone was happy. (Also, my curls were winning that night, but that's not important right now, either.)


Here's Debbie with her husband, Rafael. How cute are they? 


(The antique picture frame was also provided by Theresa at Sundrop Cottage. (Admit it - I have the coolest friends.)

The Surprise

Jonathan's girl, Amy, flew out from Texas to surprise him for his graduation party. You can tell by the look on Jon's face that he is indeed surprised. It took him a while to process that she really was here. We may or may not have had to re-start his heart from the shock. (Win.)


The Music and Dancing

Lucy volunteered to be the DJ and our brother-in-law, Corey provided the speakers and microphone for this event. Let me just interject right here that all I had wanted originally was just a microphone to make "dinner is served," or "it's time to dance" type announcements. Corey took it up a notch with an amazing state-of-the-art sound system. (I know. Charmed life. Thanks, Corey!)


And Lucy entertained us all with her intelligent mix of current favorites and extremely danceable songs. She took us from hip-hop to Cuban (Benny Moré and Celia, of course) to swing (Glenn Miller). Once the dancing started, almost no one stayed in their seats.


Amy Kikita was the one who instigated a lot of the craziness on the dance floor. Is anyone surprised by this?


A traditional Cuban conga goes from side to side, people. I just thought you should know.


 The guys donned their shades and totally got into One Direction, much to the delight of all the girls.


"You don't know you're beautiful..."

The dance floor was pretty much a blur from all the movement and happy sounds. (Also, can you tell this photo is from my iPhone? Not quite up to par with the quality of the others, is it? But look at how much fun they were having!)




"It's fun to stay at the Y..."

The lights. The music. The happy chatter. The magical glow. I loved everything about this night.




We wrapped the dancing up around 10:30 and moved all the chairs out to the far end of the yard (you can see the big screen up against the house). The kids grabbed blankets (it was a cool, but comfortable 66 degrees that night) and settled in for a showing of... what else? Ferris Bueller's Day Off. 


I can safely say that a good time was had by all. 


My youngest, Jonathan has graduated high school and we celebrated in great style. I was so delighted with how everything turned out and how comfortable everyone was. I was grateful for all my friends who stepped up and helped turn our sketches into a reality. (High five, Debbie! We did it!) I feel like we honored our three graduates in a way that was perfectly fitting, surrounded by family and friends and their extended support networks.


However, I neglected to to mention to those assembled that this was actually, in fact, my retirement party, but that's not important right now.  

The End of an Era

I've been struggling to find words to capture this day. Jonathan is graduating from high school tomorrow. And as you may or may not know, he's been homeschooled all these years. 

Jon Darby 5 yrs

Starting from first grade, he's been home with me and Eric and truthfully, we did a whole lot of un-schooling. That is, we let the kids find the things they were interested in and encouraged them to pursue those. 

Jon Darby 1st grade

Jon was always more interested in dressing up (every day!) and playing games that relied heavily on his imagination.

Would it surprise you to know that he's going to be pursuing an acting career? Specifically in comedy. I'm proud of him for having the courage to go after what he wants, but I'm scared for him, too.

Because Jon is the youngest of my four kids, this is obviously not my first rodeo graduation. 

When Amy walked in her bright red robes in 2001 twirling her gold Honor Thespian tassel, I clapped and cheered. I think I openly wept. There was no more proud mom at that moment.

Then Adam was asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at his graduation in 2004. I know I clapped and cheered. Louder than anyone. There might have been tears of relief mingled with joy.

Lucy did her thing in 2011. Of course, I clapped and cheered and shed my tears. I was blogging by then. Here's what I wrote about her graduation speech: Exact Change.

Now it's Jonathan's turn. He walks tomorrow and will be giving a speech, and I'll be honest, I'm much more tender about this moment than all the others. The other ones joke that it's because Jon is my favorite, but every other mom who has more than one child will understand that when "the baby" reaches a milestone it signals the end of an era for the parents. 


The only word to describe it is that I feel extremely "tender." As the mom who has homeschooled him for his entire school career, I'm the one who worried as he struggled to read. Who hoped he'd learn how to learn. Who made sure he ate and slept and did his chores and finished his work and said please and thank you. 

I woke up one day and in place of my sweet little guy was a man. Of course I went through this with each of my other kids, but this is the last one. The quiet and painfully shy one. The one who could barely speak up at our dinner table. I wrote about that here: The Biggest Insult.

Every time he takes the stage I'm blown away that my introverted Jon can command such a presence. That he is such a natural leader and gatherer of people. And that he's so darn funny.

Jon is the beneficiary of my blogging years and so I've managed to capture all of his best moments of growth on stage. 

This year he was Lazar Wolf in his high school production of Fiddler on the Roof.


Here's my favorite scene that he's in with his best friend, Nathan.  "To Life." 

And then, there came that bittersweet moment when he took his final bows.


And thanked our friend and the only director he's ever known. (I can't even look at this photo without weeping.)


So here he goes. Off to find his way in the world. And Eric and I are left shaking our heads in amazement and wonder. 


To steal a line from Fiddler (Sunrise, Sunset), "When did he grow to be so tall? Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?" 

We are thrilled. We are delighted. We are left scratching our heads and wondering, "How did that happen so quickly?"

Tomorrow I'll cry and pray and hug my graduate. And I'll thank God that I was privileged to have a daily front row seat to The Jonathan Show. 


I'm taking a week off to plan and prepare (amidst my tears and joy) the biggest blow-out of a graduation celebration we've ever had around here. 

Congratulations, Jonathan and all the Class of 2014. Mazel tov, my friend. Better yet, here's TO LIFE.


The Haircut

When I was a kid, as you know, I spent an extraodinary amount of time fighting The Battle of the Do, trying to tame my naturally curly locks into something more "comforming" to the cultural norm. Read all about that here...

I Have Naturally Curly Hair.

Of my four kids, Jonathan is the only one who has been stuck  blessed with the natural curls. Also, he can pretty much grow facial hair in the time it takes most people to boil water. Again, a blessing.

Imagine his delight when his high school performed Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream...the Disco Version (yes, you read that right).

He grew his curls out "long" (which in Naturally Curly Hair World just means "big") and used a pick to enhance his natural afro-ness. Along with this, he also grew his mustache out giving him a very convincing version of Creepy Disco Guy.

Behold the Epic Natural Fro.

Jon darby big hair

Jon darby midsummer

Jonathan as the actor Nick Bottom/Pyramus in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night Disco Dream

It's always fun for us to watch Jonathan on stage because he gets so into the roles he's playing. The Orange County Register thought he did pretty well, too.

Jon darby as pyramus oc register

How proud am I to see my son on the front page of the Varsity Arts section of the Orange County Register? Of course, he also happens to be wearing donkey ears and a leisure suit, but that's not important right now.

However, Jon is also trying to be an actor and for this reason, his manager suggested that he cut his hair. Not only that, she wanted him to get a professional haircut. At a specific place. In the most hipster part of LA.

Shortys in la

Which is how we found ourselves at Shorty's Barber Shop on Fairfax in Los Angeles on a Saturday afternoon.

Shortys menu in la

Eric and I sat around awkwardly waiting for Jon, trying to blend. We failed miserably, of course.

Jon darby at shortys

His talented stylist, Jessica took him from Creepy Disco Guy to Clean Cut LA Hipster in no time at all.

Jon darby haircut

I totally appreciated that this was a low-drama salon. They cut Jon's hair and the vibe was very welcoming and friendly. (Even if Jon's so-not-a-hipster mami may or may not have saved some of his curls in a zip-lock. Don't judge.)

Jon darby long hair

Jon darby short hair


Jonathan also had his brows "manscaped" and finally had some beautiful head shots taken by the very talented photographer Keli Squires-Taylor.

So here's the new and improved, cleaned-up-and-ready-to-work version of Jon.


What are you waiting for, Hollywood? Hire this kid!

The LEGO Movie Experience at Legoland. Yes, we did.

My son, Jonathan is 18 years old. He's not your typical high school senior in that he's been homeschooled since the first grade. He's got a ton of friends and pretty much does your typical teen guy stuff.

It was my delight to take Jon with me when I was invited to Legoland® for the day to preview The LEGO® Movie Experience. I was doing the Media Thing. How accidentally cool is this?

Marta darby-legoland-media

What this meant was that Jon and I got to spend a day together at Legoland®. This is something we haven't done since he was pretty young. But, as you know, we are all Unabashed Lovers of All Things Lego. See here, here, here, and here.

Marta darby legoland

The new Legoland attraction, the LEGO Movie Experience was a visit to the set of Finn's Basement. The place where the live action portion of The LEGO Movie was filmed.

Finn's basement-legoland

Picture a city and attending sets built with over 3 million LEGO bricks. I know. Mind blown.


If you look hard enough, you can actually find Emmet and his friends in vignettes from the movie. We may or may not have spent hours doing exactly this.

Emmet and friends Legoland

Also, it became a personal scavenger hunt to find Batman. Of course, there was only one Batman, because, well, there's really only one Batman. (Duh.)

Lego movie event Batman

Everywhere we turned there were more scenes from the movie. If you're a BrickLover (and we totally are), you would seriously appreciate.

WyldSide and Emmet

We so loved the movie and we so love the bricks and now here's yet another reason to love them both.

TLME Legoland

Both my husband and son have always loved building with LEGO bricks. I'm pretty sure Legoland was designed for the 12-and-under crowd and I absolutely remember the appeal for that age group, but there's something so iconic and delightful about LEGOS.

Maybe it's just nostalgia, or maybe it's something more. Could it be that the Love of All Things LEGO is transcendent?

Or maybe we're just the type of über-geeks who are imaginative enough to picture ourselves in the beautiful world of bricks where Everything is Awesome.

Let's play find the Cuban Lego Mama...

Marta darby-legoland

I wrote some more about this fabulous day over at The OC Latina Moms Blog.

Guayaberas and Cubanity

{Disclosure: I received the shirts as described below in order to review them. I did not otherwise receive any compensation for writing this post.}

A "guayabera," for the uninformed, is a beautiful linen shirt with two stripes of tiny pin-tucks and four large pockets. It has decorative buttons and a straight bottom as it was designed to be worn untucked. It is the iconic dress item for men in many Latin American countries. I've heard it called a "Mexican wedding shirt," however, historical evidence suggests that the guayabera shirt originated in 18th century Cuba.

HistoryMiami has a wonderful history of the guayabera that you may enjoy.

Men in Guayaberas

All my life, for as far back as I can remember, (and that's a really long time, people!) all the Cuban men I have ever known have worn guayaberas.

It is the iconically beautiful Cuban shirt worn by iconically handsome Cuban men. It is as God intended.

My Cuban Store graciously provided these gorgeous guayaberas for me to review. (Well, technically, for my guys to wear and review, but that's not important right now.)

Although the original guayaberas are white or light, today you can find them in a wonderful plethora of colors and styles. Coincidentally, the men in my family come in a plethora, too.

Brace yourself for the awesome...

My boys in guayaberas

My handsome men in their new guayaberas from My Cuban Store. You're speechless right now, aren't you?

*puts on her best Runway Announcer Voice*

My husband, Eric on the left is wearing a gorgeous black linen Men's Long- Sleeved Guayabera. He has already worn this to the office and gotten many compliments. Someone actually said, "Pretty fly for a white guy." (I know. 1998 called. They want the use of the word, "fly" back.)

Adam is looking handsome in the beautifully detailed Deluxe French Cuff Fitted Lavender Guayabera. The soft lavender color brings out his striking blue eyes. The guayabera style brings out his Cubanity. (<--is that a word?)

There's something magical about the guayabera. It looks fabulous on multiple body types. And it evokes an air of mystery and Caribbean charm. The guys carry themselves differently when they're wearing them. It is as if the beauty and mystique of the tropics becomes a part of them the moment they put the shirts on.

Jonathan, on the right, is rocking the Short Sleeved Navy Guayabera. He's wearing it all the time now. Seriously. All. The. Time. And he's speaking with a slight Cuban accent when he wears it. And he's started calling me "Mami."

Oh, guayabera, you've cast quite a spell around here.

Eric and Jon in guayaberas

Jon: (in a Cuban accent) "Papi, look at me in all my Cubanity." (<--it should be a real word.)

Eric: (to himself) "Did my son just call me Papi??"

Thank you, My Cuban Store, for your contribution to my family's Cubanity. (<--it should totally be a word.) My guys love their shirts and they look beautiful in them.

As God intended.